Thursday, May 28, 2009

Crazy Ludwig and Counting Swans!

Cool again, and breezy this morning with no rain. The peak of Zugspitze is still shrouded in clouds. We have yet to see its summit even though we were there yesterday! We joined an early tour for the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. It is the most popular castle in Germany with as many as 6000 visitors daily.

As with all tours you have to pay your dues and we stopped first at a tourist shop with the standard wood carving, lace, and cow bells. Next we pulled off the road at Wieskirche, ( church in the meadows). Located in the midst of a great alpine meadow in the middle of nowhere it is a most imposing structure which our guide assured us was the highest example existing of a rococo church. The story goes that in 1730, Father Magnus Straub and Friar Lukas Schweiger built a figure of Jesus for the Good Friday procession, using parts from other wooden figures, which they then covered in linen and painted. (they were too poor to have Jesus carved - the story reminded me of a Frankenstein Jesus). Apparently it was such a realistic representation of the suffering Jesus, that the congregation found it too moving and they stored it in an attic. It found its way to a farm, the "Wieshof." During evening prayers on June 14, 1738, its keeper noticed drops of water on Jesus' face, which she interpreted as tears. Following this miracle -- the place was built round it and it has become a pilgrimage spot.
The journey here by bus led us past the turn for Oberamergau and Augsburg on the way to Neuschwanstein Castle. Older local people all have walking sticks that look like ski poles, back packs and hiking boots They are prepared.....The tourist buses line up in long rows and tourists crowd into the church and then cross over to eat fried breads of some kind and other Bavarian treats. After many photos especially of the empty Organ chamber -- I found a sign indicating that the church was resorting it organ --- so for my husband Dean --I contributed 5 Euros to that cause, climbed back onto the bus and we were on our way climbing toward our goal.

The great Castle Neuschwanstein can be seen from miles away. It is easy to see why it is the most photographed castle. Built by Ludwig II (the crazy Bavarian king) in honor of his friend Richard Strauss and as a get-away, the castle was begun in the 1869. For the next 17 years it was worked on but even at the King's death it was not completed. It was not until 1969 that the first performance of Wagner took place in the performance hall. The castle was designed by a set designer -- not an architect. This was no surprising because Ludwig loved Opera and when he became king unexpectedly-- the first person he sought out was Richard Wagner -- whose operas he loved. They were operas that gloried in the tales of the Norse gods and goddesses. Across the valley stands a yellow castle which belonged to his father, Maximilian -- and in 1885 he had a telephone installed between the two castles. He only lived in his beloved Neuschwantstein for 172 days --- before he was to be committed. (being judged mentally incompetent. He was not doing his job governing and was spending the treasury on building castles for his entertainment.) On the way to the institution he asked to take a walk and was found the next day in a lake with his dead psychiatrist floating along-side. No one is sure if he killed himself or if he was killed by the government, but just 6 weeks after his death the castle opened as a museum so that the public could help pay the great cost of the structure.
It was still very cool indeed, and I was thankful to borrow Cindy's nice wool sweater from Ireland! We arrived at Neuschwanstein as the sun was breaking through the clouds and took a bus up the steep slope at the base of the castle....but there was still a steep climb to the Maria Bridge from which you can photograph the castle---the bridge goes over a a gorge ---and you can look back at the castle or down at a beautiful waterfall. Then it was back to the trail --and more climbing. We arrived at the castle and immediately had to ascend 89 stairs --- then we were in the servants quarters. Which were quite nice for what they were --- with dark wood everywhere and cradles and beds, tables and candelabras in evidence everywhere. Next we climbed another 64 Stairs to the main quarters of the King.

There is a waterclooset with running water and there is a little basin where he could wash up which featured running cold water. He had a chair for reading, a chair for writing, and a special little chapel just off his quarters-- Everything was covered with dark wood and carvings. The carvings in this chamber took 4 carvers 14 years to complete. It was during this time that we encountered two young visitors who were enthusiastically counting images of swans. After brief introductions --and showing them Westmeady we struck up quite a conversation. They were from Virginia, but were living for three years in Great Britain and they were attending British school rather than American school.
There parents kindly allowed Westmeady to interview the girls to let boys and girls in on the experience of being an American child traveling in many countries. Their count was up to 82 when we entered the dining room next to the chamber, but all the rooms are dark the windows are small so they admit little light. For such a large building the castle has relatively few rooms finished. It seems like the perfect idea to finish the rest as guest rooms for a resort! But much of the castle was never completed.

We climb down what seems like hundreds of stairs and then must walk down a steep hill to get to our destination for lunch and the return bus trip....I am nearly worn out just as we see a horse drawn buggy and hail a ride the rest of the way down. Our seat mates have an Australian shepherd with them and we immediately strike up a conversation. They do well with English and are training this dog to work their two horses. Murphy is very well behaved as all the dogs here seem to be as they join their masters for meals in the restaurants. (Often the owner provides a small bowl for his companion with water and the dogs receive treats for good behavior.
We have lunch -- again trying more Bavarian cuisine -- this time I ordered the potato pancakes with applesauce and shared with Kathy who had a "meat-salat" various cabbages, corn, red beans, bibb lettuce, turkey on a skewer with pineapple - grilled in a vinegar dressing, and Bunny had a turkey sandwich on a wonderful piece of brott --- but the turkey was flavored a bit like the sausage here --- and to me tasted similar to a Bologna. Matt chose spaghetti and we all shared apple struedel and coffee for desert.
The road winding back to the hotel criss-crosses and old trade route...the Via Claudia and we pass through the Austrian Alps before re-entering Germany and finding our way back to the Lodge. Oh, yes, the Swan count? Ultimately they had to estimate 2,220 total!

No comments: